Monday

09 May 2011

"Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people." (v. 8)

Background

This passage describes the early days of the Church. There was no clear distinction between the Jews who worshipped Christ and those that did not. The Church was still part of Judaism, but was struggling to exist within it. It is part of the long history of continuity and discontinuity between Judaism and what will emerge as Christianity.

In this situation Stephen's powerful "wonders and signs" in the name of Jesus attracted opposition from the synagogue of the Freedmen. Around the world, national groups meet together for worship. For instance in London, Brazilian, Iranian and Ghanaian fellowships are joined together by both culture and faith. Two thousand years ago in Jerusalem it was similar. Some synagogues gathered predominately Greek-speaking Jews (Freedmen) and others Hebrew-speaking Jews.

Stephen's actions antagonised the Greek-speaking Jews. The crisis became intense when they joined forces with the Hebrew-speaking hierarchy who took a particular interest in the care of the temple. Stephen was caught in a pincer movement of two strong groups. It was an invidious position. Many people would have buckled under the pressure. But he remained true to his beliefs - "full of God's grace and power".

The charge laid before Stephen is the same as that of Christ - the destruction of the temple. Luke, the author of Acts, echoes the promise of Jesus that when called to defend themselves, the disciples would be given the help of the Spirit (Luke 12:12) and wisdom (Luke 21:15). Stephen proved the truth of this promise. In verse 15 there is the curious phrase, "that his face was like the face of an angel". This appears to be a figurative way of describing Stephen's closeness to God's presence.

To Ponder

Christianity was birthed out of Judaism. Are there babies that we have thrown out with the bath water? What are they?

Do you know people suffering for their faith? How might you support them?

If you were charged with being a follower of Christ what evidence would there be to convict you?

Bible notes author: The Revd Tony Morling

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